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A Place of Communal Order

The Balinese village is a closely knit network of social, religious and economic institutions to which every Balinese belongs. Most Balinese live in villages, yet even those who now reside and work in cities like Denpasar still identify with and actively participate in organizations in the village of their birth.

Spatial organization

Spatial orientation plays an eminent role in all things Balinese. The most important points of reference are kaja ("upstream" or "toward the mountain") and kelod ("downstream" or 11 seawards"), although kangin (east), kauh (west) and the intermediary compass points are of almost equal importance. Note that kaja in south Bali lies to the north, whereas in north Bali, on the other side of the mountains, it refers to a southerly direction.

At the heart of every traditional Balinese village (desa adat) is the so-called kahyangan tiga - the three core village temples that are physically located in close accordance with this system of orientation. Thus the Pura puseh ("temple of origin") lies nearest the mountains, the Pura bale agung ("temple of the great meeting hall") lies in the center of the village, and the Pura dalem (temple of the not-yet-purified deceased and of magically charged and potentially dangerous forces) lies to the seaward side of the village.

Clustered around the Pura desa, generally between the Pura Puseh and the Pura dalem, lie the residential quarters of the village, known as banjar (sometimes translated as "hamlets" but actually comprising distinctive neighborhoods within the village). These are usually referred to as "eastern," "western" and "central," but are often named according to the dominant profession or caste of their residents. Thus, we find banjar pande where smiths live, and banjar brahmana where members of the brahmana caste predominate.

Each banjar has its own meeting hall (bale baniar), which is the secular counter part of the bale agung temple. These bale banjar are the social centers of the community, often now equipped with ping-pong tables and TV sets and surrounded by small portable food stalls in the late afternoon.

Each banjar is surrounded by rice fields and gardens. The outer boundaries of the village are usually clearly marked by hedges, valleys, streams, forests and the like. There are many local and regional variations in village layout determined by local topography, population density, and so on, but there is a common pattern.

The family compound

In stark contrast to the open social and religious spaces of the village, the family living quarters are enclosed and private. House compounds are surrounded by a wall and from the outside nothing much can be seen.

A family compound consists of several buildings whose location and function are strictly defined and spacially determined. In the mountain ward-eastern corner of the compound lies the family temple. Also toward the mountain ward side is the bale gunung rata or meten bandung in which the parents and grandparents usually live.

The bale dangin or bale gede (the "east" or "great" pavilion) is where family ceremonies such as tooth-filings and weddings are held, but the children may also sleep here. Guests are normally received in the eastern pavilion.

The western pavilion (bale dauh) is where children normally sleep. In the seaward or downhill section of the compound we find the more mundane and functional structures the kitchen (fiaon), rice granary (lumbung), pigsty and the bathroom (if there is one).

It is within the house compound that a child is reared and integrated into the ways of village life with the help and care of parents, siblings and, most especially, the grandparents. Male children continue to live here; a girl moves to the compound of her in-laws.

Social and religious organization

The Balinese village may be said to be "semiautonomous" in the sense that it is largely responsible for its own socio-religious affairs and yet still forms part of wider governmental and religious networks. The desa adat is the lowest administrative level of the state. A number of desa adat form a "sub-district" (desa or perbekelan), several of which form a district (kecamatan), which in turn make up the regency (kabupaten). The boundaries of the latter are for the most part identical with those of the former Balinese kingdoms.

The semi-autonomous status of the village creates the need for a dual village administration a klian adat or chief responsible for internal village affairs, and a klian dinas who is responsible to the regional government. Below these are several banjar chiefs.

The village is further characterized by the existence of numerous groupings, membership in which is only partially voluntary. Before marriage, a person is a member of the boys' or girls' club. These have specific duties in the context of village rituals, and may be regarded as a "training ground" for the person's later participation in village affairs as a married adult. Upon marriage, a Balinese becomes a member of the neighborhood association (banjar), the village association, the irrigation society (subak), and several other groups such as the local music club, the rice harvest association, and so on.

Every Balinese thus lives within a complex matrix of interconnecting and overlapping associations. He or she has multiple duties to fulfill as members of these various institutions, as well as in the complex rounds of regional, village and family-based ceremonies. It is due to the great complexity of these groups and their attendant support of the individual's personal identity that the village has retained its vital role as the focal point of Balinese life, even in the face of rapid modernization and change.


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